Confusion over claims that Portugal is showing ‘worst global virus numbers per million inhabitants’

Tuesday has seen numerous sources query the rush of headlines yesterday proclaiming that Portugal had basically ‘the worst virus numbers in the world’.

The assertions started coming over the weekend. Then on Monday every news source seems to have picked them up: Portugal “is the country that registers more daily cases per million inhabitants than anywhere else in the world”. It is also the “second country in the world with more daily deaths per million inhabitants”.

These apocalyptic facts were blasted over the media ahead of an announcement by prime minister António Costa that lockdown measures had to be tightened. There are to be more police on the streets ensuring citizens comply, people cannot sit down on park benches – essentially any attempts to get through this period of collective misery with a spring in one’s step are to be roundly discouraged. No tennis playing, for example – when a singles game is rarely anything but good exercise at a guaranteed physical distance.

So what is the ‘real picture’ (if there can be any statistics that we rely upon)?

Well, according to the Worldometers site that has been documenting the pandemic as best it can (ie on the basis of data supplied by different countries), Portugal is a very long way from leading the field when it comes to cases per million inhabitants, or indeed deaths – which is encouraging particularly in view of this country’s large elderly population.

The country currently has 135,886 active cases. But Worldometers puts the current case load per million inhabitants at 54,665. 

Ahead of Portugal for active cases are 20 countries (this is understandable as Portugal’s population is only 10.2 million…); ahead of Portugal for total cases per million inhabitants are 19 countries and territories, namely: Czechia, Belgium, Israel, Switzerland, Panama, Georgia, Croatia, Lithuania, Armenia, Slovenia, Bahrain, Montenegro, Luxembourg, French Polynesia, Burkina Faso, Aruba, Gibraltar, San Marino and Liechtenstein.

Portugal is currently showing 887 deaths per million inhabitants. This number too is exceeded by no less than 30 countries, in some cases quite markedly. For example, Italy – one of the two European countries with a larger elderly population than Portugal – registers 1,367 deaths per million inhabitants; France 1.082; even our neighbour Spain registers 1,150 deaths per million inhabitants.

In other words, Portugal’s numbers – despite being hugely worrying and causing immense strain on the health service – are by no means the ‘worst in the world’ although daily increases over the last week show cases, and deaths, rising higher per million inhabitants than almost every other country that shares its data.

By coincidence citizens in the UK had similar headlines yesterday (January 18). Indeed they were told that “no other country matches the rate of deaths per capita” suffered in Great Britain.

Reports claimed “the UK’s death toll overall is the highest in Europe and across the globe is only just behind the US, Brazil, India and Mexico without taking into account populations per country”.

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